Articles Healthcare

Communicating With Your Doctor

Your doctor is only as good as how well you two communicate. Certain criteria must be met in order for you to communicate well. If all goes well, then it’s much more likely that you’ll have the desired outcome you’re looking for, and the doctor will walk away feeling like they helped you. Communicating with your doctor is no different from communicating with your business partner, significant other, or kids.

Organizing Thoughts & Ideas

What is the reason you are seeking out your primary care doctor in the first place? What can they do for you, what are they willing to do for you, and what are you willing to do for this situation to be resolved?

My most effective patients have already given their situation some thought and often come to me with clearly formed ideas or questions.

These patients may also just show up without having had a chance to think much about what’s been happening. They are comfortable exploring it openly with me from a place of vulnerability, knowing I won’t force them on the defensive.

Example: You are worried about your heart health and considering a CAC test. You can ask your doctor to order it for you, but then you won’t have a meaningful relationship with your doctor because they feel as though you are just using them for their medical license without exploring the need for this CT scan in the first place.

Asking The Right Questions

To ask good questions, we must get down to the level of the other person. My patient has to be able to see things from my perspective, and I must assess the situation through my patient’s eyes.

Asking the right questions helps us get closer to the truth. If I’m off in the weeds and we’re discussing something irrelevant, the patient will leave more confused and the doctor frustrated.

Example: the patient had some abdominal pains for which the ER workup revealed gallstones. They are trying to figure out how to arrange a gallbladder removal surgery. The right question to ask here is if the cholecystectomy is necessary in the first place.

Following Up

Closure is so important for us to feel whole. A conversation that doesn’t offer closure or an experience that leaves us with more questions than answers is bewildering.

When a patient sees me for an issue, it’s unlikely that the issue will be resolved after only 45 minutes of our talking. Instead, we need time after the appointment for each of us to reflect on the issue and talk about it again.

Your doctor should have time to make time for you two to follow up on important health topics. This will make future communication much more effective and efficient.

Example: You had multiple blood tests ordered, all negative. But you are still worried that something else is going on. Your doctor might think all is well, but you are freaked out. Having a follow-up and clearly expressing yourself is very important.

Understanding Limitations

What can I expect from my patient? What can you expect from your doctor? What is each party’s limitation at any given time in a given circumstance?

Understanding limitation is similar to empathy. Each doctor has their own practice style, and each patient has their own unique health fears. Realizing these factors means realizing each other’s limitations and making communicating with your doctor a better experience.

Example: I may be able to manage the workup for a serious autoimmune condition, but I’m limited by what I don’t know about this disease. It’s in the patient’s best interest to see a rheumatologist.

Setting Realistic Expectations

Acute conditions often resolve spontaneously, but chronic conditions tend to remain chronic. This paradigm of health and disease is both predictable and frustrating.

In any professional or business conversation, each party will have certain expectations. These have to be based on reality and what’s feasible given resources, or else both the patient and doctor will not only miscommunicate but leave quite frustrated.

Example: I cannot expect my patient to suddenly turn their diabetes around by losing 55 lbs and doing a mix of resistance and aerobic training 5 days a week. Neither can my patient expect that a single medication that I prescribe will cure their condition permanently.

Asking for Clarification

Miscommunication is part of communication. In fact, before a real exchange of ideas can happen, the two parties must first miscommunicate. From here, they’ll correct the course and finally connect.

I must be able to ask my patients clarifying questions without evoking defensiveness. My patient, in turn, should be able to ask for clarification without me feeling frustrated.

“Effective communication takes deliberation and practice,”


Example: You get frustrated because your doctor never called you to follow up. But did you two agree to a follow-up call, and was your doctor aware? Before ending any important conversation, asking for clarification and summarizing important points helps improve the quality of communication with your doctor.

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